Community members and parents around École Willows were surprised to see a backhoe digging up a brand new playground installed just months earlier on the school grounds.
The new playground had its grand opening on June 18 at École Willows. The playground, open to students and the community, features a net-based, steel-framed climbing structure with creative climbing action and a challenging upper body circuit. The steel-framed climbing structure is now being moved a few metres from its current location.
“The district received some concerns from the neighborhood about the proximity to housing as well as the noise associated with the replacement equipment,” said Lisa McPhail, communications director for the Greater Victoria School District. “The district was open and responsive to the feedback received and decided to move the equipment, as we always strive to be good neighbours.”
Residents in the Tod House condos that are adjacent to the playground were surprised by the complaints and decision to move the structure, said Craig Harris, Chair of Tod House. They unanimously support the playground remaining as it was.
The Willows PAC, who spearheaded and spent six years fundraising for the $55,000 playground project, felt there should have been upfront, transparent communication to the school community about the changes before the heavy equipment arrived on site.
According to Cindy Mingay Rodier, Willows PAC Chair, and Bronwen Sharpe, Willows Playground Committee, they met with principal Wendy Holob and Chuck Morris, Director of Facilities for SD61, on Sept. 18 to discuss a series of emails that had been received over the summer regarding the new playground from residents adjacent to the school. The two main issues raised were that when children play on the Dynamo (net apparatus) the neighbours’ privacy is invaded and, secondly, that the noise emitted by the blue slider is a disturbance.
During the meeting, the PAC representatives were informed of the district’s desire to satisfy the two complaints, and that the district would also be looking into a subsequent complaint about property line bylaws having possibly been contravened.
The PAC left the meeting under the impression that if the district found the placement of the Dynamo was in contravention of the property line bylaws then next steps would be discussed. No update was given though, say Rodier and Sharpe, and the first they knew of the Dynamo being moved was the appearance of the fences and backhoe last week.
Mayor Nils Jensen has since confirmed that no property line bylaws were violated.
While the PAC agreed that moving the Dynamo would not detract from the playground, they are strongly against the district’s suggested removal and replacement of the blue slider with a different kinetic playground piece. In 2016, after the designs for the playground were approved by the school district and school administration, every parent and staff member of the school was invited to vote on the two proposed playground structures. The playground installed is the result of that vote.
Ultimately, though the PAC spearheaded and funded the project into existence through the generosity of companies and members of the community, as soon as it was installed, it became district property, and therefore, the district has full authority in the decision-making.
Parents voiced concern about who would be paying for the move. McPhail confirmed that the district would be doing the work internally as part of their ground work.
“Given this, there is not an operational budget impact. There is no additional equipment required,” said McPhail.
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